Six years ago, when Penny Clarke was furloughed from her government job in Washington, D.C., she decided to try her hand at entrepreneurship. She opened an online jewelry and accessories company featuring African designs. Today she reportedly is pulling in monthly online sales of more than $50,000.
Her sales got a major boost following the protests sparked by the May 2020 police murder of George Floyd when there was a heightened interest in supporting Black-owned companies.
But her Millie’s International Creations wasn’t an overnight success; it took time and planning to get it up and running, especially since she wanted to work with female African artisans. She collaborated with Ghanaian artisans to make the jewelry, which is shipped back to the U.S. for sale.
“In 2015, I visited a village in Langa Township, Cape Town, South Africa, and that reinvigorated my passion and desire to help women around the world achieve their dreams. I visited various female artisans, clothing designers, leather makers, and fabric distributors to bring this to fruition,” she says on her website.
Clarke was born and raised in Monrovia, Liberia, and immigrated to the United States in October 1986 at age 16 to attend college.
“With a strong interest in travel, fashion, and foreign languages from a young age, I initially wanted to return to Liberia and open a boutique, but circumstances surrounding life, work, and family prevented this,” she says.
Clarke drew inspiration from her entrepreneurial mother, Mildred F. W. Yancy, whom she named her business after. Her mother was a schoolteacher but had a side hustle of selling cornbread.
The key to her success seems to be making African design affordable; customers can get beaded jewelry items for under $25, with the price range going up to $285 for a mud cloth and suede handbag. Millie’s also offers home fashions, men’s jewelry, shoes, and headwraps.
Clarke has grown her business from earning about $5,000 in monthly sales in the business’s early years to more than $50,000. Here’s how she did it.
Social Media Strategy Helps Black Jewelry Maker
Understanding she needed to capitalize on the interest in Black business, she got the word out about her company via social media. She turned to a company that specialized in social media marketing, 7th Pro Solutions.
“When I started working with Edwin Jardin (the founder of 7th Pro Solutions), he really helped me to create a sales funnel for my website that has literally increased my revenue by 500 percent. My company now gets sales every single day, and it’s a challenge to keep up with inventory – which is a great problem to have,” Clarke told Black Business.
Jewelry is Big Business
The U.S. jewelry market was valued at about $76 billion in 2020, according to Statista. This includes all forms of jewelry, from artisan items to diamonds.
Black Jewelers Finally Getting Recognition They Deserve
Black jewelers have been overlooked by the broad jewelry market for the longest, but now many are finally getting acknowledged.
Angie Marei of Diaboli Kill jewelry company told Forbes that she also hopes that the momentum behind the Black Lives Matter movement helps Black jewelry businesses thrive. “For too long, Black creatives have been under-represented in the creative industries,” said Marei. “I hope this movement will open up more opportunity; there is so much amazing talent to be discovered.”